Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

White Women Captives in North Africa: Narratives of Enslavement, 1735-1830

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

White Women Captives in North Africa: Narratives of Enslavement, 1735-1830

Article excerpt

White Women Captives in North Africa: Narratives of Enslavement, 1735-1830. By Khalid Bekkaoui. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Pp. 303; illustrations, bibliography, index. £ 55.

This book is a curious compilation. On the back cover we learn that it contains "(eight) narratives composed by European women abducted by Muslim corsairs and enslaved in North Africa during the age of piracy," and that the narratives, written between 1735 and 1830, "played a major role in informing Western ideas about North Africa, reshaping attitudes toward Islamic cultures, refashioning white womanhood, confirming European assumptions of a cultural and religious superiority and entrenching colonial ideology." Yet, in "A Note on the Texts," author Khalid Bekkaoui informs the reader that while the first four narratives are "historical," the second four are "almost certainly fictitious" (p. vii). He does not explain why the first four are considered to be historical or why the second four are considered to be fictitious. Readers who skip over the note will assume that they are all non-fiction.

In the Introduction, the author describes the corsair era and the practice of capturing inhabitants of coastal areas or sea travelers for the purpose of ransom or slave labor. He focuses on European women captured by Muslims but explains that Europeans also captured Muslim women for ransom or resale. Because of the lack of sources, Bekkaoui often reverts to Renaissance drama, fictional chronicles, and popular literature for information about the treatment of women prisoners and slaves. He uncritically uses terms such as "renegade" for Europeans who have converted to Islam though "convert" would have been better. He explains that American and European readers accepted captivity narratives as factual accounts of Muslim peoples and cultures whether they were fictitious or not. Readers were thrilled by stories of white women valiantly resisting their Moorish captors, being sexually subjugated to them, refusing religious conversion, surviving horrific torture, or heroically escaping captivity. …

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